After over a year of speculation, delays, Brexit and leaks, the highly anticipated Review of Post-18 Education was finally published on Thursday.
Prior to publication, momentum on the Review had reached an all-time low, with WonkHE dubbing it a “delayed, unwinnable and unanswerable” search for an answer to a question that was never really posed in the first place. The headline leak of lowering tuition fees to £7,500 had already been digested by sector stakeholders, and the main expectation was that the plan for topping up this lost income would come through boosted teaching grants.
In short, the sector was not wrong. The Review’s approach to Higher Education funding is ambiguous. Differential treatment has been given to subjects in line with the Industrial Strategy, and the proposal to extend student loans to benefit the taxpayer has gone down like a led balloon with both trade unions and university associations due to its preferential treatment of higher-earning graduates.
A key focus on improving social mobility is evident throughout the Review, though some recommendations, such as the removal of popular foundation years, could be seen to miss the mark. If implemented, Augar’s advocacy for better investment in Further Education alongside its endorsement of a flexible student finance system would likely encourage a more diverse range of students to pursue lifelong learning and ‘upskill’ later in life.
Augar’s vision for the future imagines a post-18 education landscape where education leads to employment. School careers hubs will be vital for enabling fair choice for prospective students, FE colleges will provide community learning leading to sustainable career opportunities, and apprenticeships will become viable degree alternatives. If these recommendations are taken on board, the sector landscape could be set to change, with industry playing a key part in career-based schemes and the future automation of work setting the technical education agenda.
In line with the trend of overshadowing that Augar followers will be used to by now, the Review’s publication comes in the wake of a Tory leadership battle. The next Prime Minister is unlikely to have the exact same priorities as Theresa May, leaving a question mark over when, how and indeed if the recommendations will be implemented. Casting all doubts to the side, we’re glad it’s finally out.
Find out more about in our Issue Spotlight: Augar Review which summarises all the key findings, recommendations and stakeholder reactions.